Cast in Balefire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Half-angel mage Marion Garin has become Queen of the Unseelie, but she can’t hold the faerie courts without convincing everyone she’s in love with her cheating, abusive husband—the beloved King ErlKonig. Rumor says Marion’s in love with the God of Death. The unseelie are revolting. And it wouldn’t be so hard to fix if the rumors weren’t true…

Excerpt:

Niflheimr, The Middle Worlds

During her idle moments—of which there had been few—Marion had tried to learn about her absent mother. There hadn’t been much information to gather. Ariane Kavanagh wasn’t a popular character in Marion’s multitude of personal journals, so she had largely been mentioned when Marion was complaining.

Marion had been willing to filter that information through the understanding that Marion, pre-memory-loss, hadn’t been a popular character either.

Ariane might not have been as bad as the insults in Marion’s journals posited.

She couldn’t have been as vain as Marion painted her. She wasn’t self-centered but simply withdrawn. The preferential treatment Ariane seemed to give Dana had been the perception of a girl suffering ordinary sibling rivalry.

There was most likely a great reason that Ariane hadn’t made contact when Marion had gone missing, reappeared, or gotten married.

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Marion was ready to believe the best about her mother until the moment she realized that Ariane Kavanagh was colluding with the goat-demon who had stolen Marion’s memories.

Maman,” Marion whispered, reverting instinctively to French. She only took one step down her throne room’s stairs before stopping herself. She cleared her throat. Raised her voice. “Ravens! Heather!”

“Don’t do that,” said Onoskelis, the goat-demon.

The Raven Knights didn’t come even though someone should have been in earshot.

Marion was alone in her throne room. Freshly wedded, absolutely miserable, and cornered.

“I’m not one for the Middle Worlds, so let’s keep this meeting short.” Onoskelis hiked her robes high enough to flash cloven hooves as she clattered up the stairs. She settled into the stenographer’s empty seat, producing parchment and a fountain pen. “Do you prefer Garin? Kavanagh? You can’t take Konig’s last name. They never do last names in the sidhe courts.”

Marion was speechless.

“Why?” she asked after some moments of uncharacteristic floundering.

“For the contract to return your memories,” Onoskelis said.

“You took my memories. You were there that night, at Original Sin, and you took my memories!”

“It was not necessary to take your memories as I had copied them prior to that night. I only went to Original Sin to bear witness to a critical moment in time,” Onoskelis said.

The demon’s words passed by Marion unabsorbed. Her gaze was magnetically drawn to her mother’s. “And you’re behind this?”

Ariane tipped her cheek to her shoulder in a gesture that was too girlishly cute for a woman approaching fifty. “Frowning creates wrinkles, my little sweet.” She spoke in French too.

So it was true. All of it was true. Ariane was as horrible as Marion had feared.

“We arranged this meeting between the three of us before you lost your memory,” Onoskelis said, dashing out a few lines of text onto her parchment. “You insisted on having a mortal witness. Your mother volunteered.”

“Volunteered to witness…what, exactly?” Marion asked.

“The contract.” The goat-demon’s impatience made her hand scratch more aggressively across the page. “You have to do what I tell you in order to get your memories back.”

“You have to do a series of tasks, to be clear,” Ariane said.

Marion dug her fingernails into the arms of her chair. “I can’t believe you’re making demands of me after such a protracted absence. You missed my wedding. Where have you been?”

“You of all people should understand that life gets in the way of our best intentions. But I’ve been nearby, even if I haven’t been able to make contact.” Ariane swirled the large glass vessel cradled in her arms. It took a full-body motion, almost like a dance, to get it sloshing. Sparkles erupted from its bubbling surface.

“Should I recognize that?” Marion asked.

Ariane stopped swaying. “You would if you hadn’t lost your memories.”

“Which I’d really like to get on to fixing.” Onoskelis’s head was bowed so that her furry goat muzzle was millimeters from the papyrus. “Marion Garin or Kavanagh?”

“Garin,” Marion said distractedly. “Mother…the potion?”

Ariane set the glass vial on a table framed by velvet curtains. “It’s similar to the magic we embedded in the honesty bracelets. I was asked to use the potion on your behalf to sway the votes.”

That was why the group had voted for Konig to keep his title. Marion had unwittingly benefited from magical coercion.

“Who asked you to do that?” Marion said.

“Adàn.”

He was the stag shifter leading Los Cambiasformas Internacional, the alliance of Western European gaeans. Marion had never heard him addressed informally before. Nor had she seen anyone smile at the thought of Adàn Pedregon.

“How do you know each other?” Marion asked, though she suspected she already knew.

“Intimately,” Ariane said. “I’d have helped even if Adàn hadn’t asked the favor, but gratitude is a flattering look on him. Regardless, I’d planned to intervene in order to keep things on track.”

Marion was feeling lost again. “On track?”

“There’s a plan to all of this—a greater design.” Onoskelis waved at the throne room with her pen. Crimson ink splattered on the icy floor and began melting through. “You, Marion Garin, Queen of the Unseelie, have willingly shouldered the task of intervening where deities cannot. You must perform a series of labors I assign to you, each of which is intended to keep Events aligned with the Meta. When you’ve completed the tasks, you’ll have your memories restored.”

“You wanted me to inform you that these tasks are all in the service of the greater good, and your safety is ensured when you follow them,” Ariane added. “Onoskelis is making a generous offer. Take it and don’t look back.”

The back of Marion’s neck prickled unpleasantly. “First of all, I won’t be told what to do by someone who’s been absent since my initial abduction, and gods only know how long before that. I am not your property. I’m not a child. I’m Queen of the Unseelie, and you’ll speak to me with respect.”

Ariane stepped up the first stairs, approaching Marion. “What’s the second thing?”

“It’s impossible for me to get my memories back. They were destroyed in the Canope.”

“The originals were,” Onoskelis said without looking up from her writing. “I have copies. I am a Librarian.” She said the word without a hint of self-importance, but the sound of it resonated, as though plucking at Marion’s soul. “Librarians chronicle everything that happens throughout every genesis, and I’d never allow the pages from the notable book of your mind to be lost.”

“Bold claim,” Marion said. “Too bold. I’ve heard enough. Raven Knights!”

“They won’t come.” Onoskelis set her pen down and scattered sand over the page to dry the ink. “I’ve paused time.”

“You’ve paused…?” Marion swept off of the throne, flinging aside curtains to look outside.

The Winter Court had evolved in the hours since Marion’s wedding. The Autumn Court’s eternal sunset shone gold on the horizon, creating silhouettes of the mountains. Light had never touched the Winter Court, not once. Not until Konig began ruling it.

The snow eternally blasting through the lightened sky was not moving. The swaying trees had gone still. Even the shivering towers of Niflheimr were still.

Onoskelis had paused time.

“You can’t do that,” Marion said.

The goat-demon lifted a second page she’d been writing on. “Words are miracles, every one of them. Books open more doors than you can imagine.”

“You have no clue how many doors I can imagine.”

“I’m privy to the Meta, which means I know everything about you and everyone else I encounter. What that must happen, will happen.”

“Then I don’t need to sign any contracts,” Marion said.

Ariane took the paper from Onoskelis and transported it to Marion, who reluctantly read. The contract didn’t list each of the labors Onoskelis intended for her to perform. It said nothing about how long those labors would last, either.

The terms more or less said that Marion was promising to behave herself, like a naughty student who signed a contract promising to do her homework. But she had no clue what the homework was, and she had no proof that the teacher across the desk was legitimate.

Damn it all, Marion was a queen, and they wanted her to promise to be obedient.

“You’re too late to offer this to me,” Marion said. “I don’t want my memories back.”

Ariane’s cheeks paled. “You don’t—?”

“I’m a better person without them. I was a wretched, loathsome child on a power trip.”

“Sweetheart…” Ariane moved to touch her cheek, but Marion swept out of range.

Onoskelis’s oval pupils, veiled by thick eyelashes, focused on Marion’s face. “You haven’t been able to reach out to the gods since losing your memories. You’ll know how you used to reach them.” Her ears flicked within the hood, stirring the heavy cloth. “You’ll be able to speak to Death.”

The floor dropped out from under Marion’s feet, and there was nothing underneath her except a yawning chasm of grief. Wretched misery tasted like the brimstone that had devoured Seth.

Marion tossed the contract to the table. “Prove you can hold up your end of this.”

“Very well.” Onoskelis turned the contract over and wrote a couple quick lines on the back. “Sign this.”

It was a truncated contract offering Marion a “trial” of memory restoration. She plucked the pen from Onoskelis’s eerily child-like hand and signed it.

“I’ve restored a handful of nonconsecutive hours to you,” Onoskelis said. “For instance, the speech you gave at the shifter academy while running for student high priestess.”

Marion remembered.

It wasn’t like having missing moments replayed. There was simply new information available—recollections of standing under searing lights with confidence she was going to win.

“You’ve had some magical knowledge restored too. You’ll discover other memories as time goes on,” Onoskelis said, “but I’ll return them all to you once you’ve completed the tasks as dictated by this contract.” She flipped the page back over and shoved it under the nib of Marion’s pen.

She’d sign no such contract.

Those recollections weren’t the only things restored. They’d dragged wisps of Marion’s personality along with them, shrouding her in arrogance and affront.

Marion was a queen, gods damn it all. Onoskelis was withholding access to Seth. And Ariane was complicit.

She flung the pen to the table. “Who do you think you are, to hold my memories hostage? To blackmail me, Queen of the Unseelie?”

The goat-demon took dainty wire-framed spectacles off the end of her nose, folding her arms with cherubic fingers. “You’re the one who wanted me to make a copy of your memories for safekeeping.”

“You approached her,” Ariane agreed. “You asked me to insist on your compliance.”

Marion whirled on her mother, fist clenching as she lifted it.

Electric-blue magic lanced over her knuckles.

Ariane didn’t look nearly as surprised as Marion felt. Onoskelis had restored more than a few memory scraps—she’d returned some of Marion’s magic. She’d only needed to reach instinctively into the cables of energy that flowed through the universe and seize them.

“I’ve reached the limits of my tolerance for Niflheimr,” Onoskelis said, casting an annoyed side-eye toward Marion’s hand. “Tell Ariane Kavanagh once you’re ready for the first of your labors, and she will pass it onto you.”

The Librarian vanished.

The Raven Knights erupted into Marion’s throne room moments later, bows raised, looking for a fight that was long gone.

COLLAPSE

Cast in Hellfire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Marion Garin is the  daughter of Metaraon, the former Voice of God. Now she's also the steward of the Winter Court, which has been in anarchy since a revolution five years earlier.

Problem: Marion still doesn't remember anything that happened before two weeks ago.

Seth Wilder has a lead on her memories. Whoever stole them and sold Marion's essence to a demon lord in Sheol. Marion wants to help steal them back, even though that means abandoning the Winter Court to war. And Seth can't seem to tell Marion no.

He wants Marion nearby. Very nearby. Possibly in his teeth. See, Seth has this little problem where he's developing a killing urge, and it seems to be centered primarily on the half-angel girl who adores him. It conflicts with everything Seth believes himself to be: a moral man, a doctor who heals instead of hurts. Yet he's obsessed with Marion. She wants her memories, and he wants her to have them as much as he wants her blood.

They'll work together to make Marion whole, come hell or high water. Even if it means war. Even if it means Seth might hurt Marion. And damned be the consequences...

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Publisher: Red Iris Books
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Excerpt:

Marion Garin gripped a pen so hard that it snapped.

Black ink oozed across the table. She bit the inside of her cheek and tried to mop it up with a piece of official stationary before anyone noticed.

“What’s wrong with you?” muttered the vampire on Marion’s left. Her name was Jolene Chang, and she was representing the American Gaean Commission. Jolene was an asanbosam—a weak breed with knives for teeth, long fingernails, and insignificant social power. Yet Marion was forced to sit beside her.

What was wrong with her? Marion wasn’t seated at the head of the table, that was what was wrong with her.

She was among a dozen preternaturals who had been selected as speakers for their various factions, which meant that she was ranked equally among them in this particular context. But in every context—including this one—she was still the Voice of God, and she should have been in charge.

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Instead, she was seated at the far end of the table beside Jolene, a great big nobody, and another vampire delegate, Lucifer, who was as much a nobody.

Being surrounded by speakers from insignificant factions spoke volumes about the organizers’ respect for Marion.

On the other hand, Prince ErlKonig of the Autumn Court was seated near the head of the table. When he caught her looking at him, he winked. Marion reluctantly smiled.

“Cast your votes,” said Rylie Gresham, Alpha of the North American Union shapeshifters.

She was the one in charge, so she had been seated at the place of honor at the head of the table. It was her logo on everything. Her blond-haired, apple-cheeked face on the posters ringing the room. Her guards, from both the Summer Court and the shifter sanctuary, protecting the doors and watching the delegates to make sure that they couldn’t cheat while voting.

Rylie Gresham was all over everything.

Marion couldn’t cast her vote with a broken pen. She gestured to her assistant for help. Jibril was an angel who looked as pleased to be her assistant as he would have been to scrape dog crap off of the bottom of his designer shoes.

Everyone else around the table had already marked off their vote, folded their papers, and passed them to Rylie.

That was how they were voting. They were writing “yes” or “no” on a paper, and then Rylie would count them. It was irritatingly low-tech for a summit of such importance.

Konig had said that Marion had originally been slated to cast some kind of voting spell. Unfortunately, Marion’s oeuvre at the moment was more along the lines of breaking pens, irritating the angels, and making people hate her, and not so much with the politically oriented magic.

So they were casting votes manually.

Marion glanced at Konig again. He was sitting back in his chair, hands folded behind his head. The decision had been easy for him.

Marion moved to mark her vote, but the tip of her new pen hovered over a clean sheet of paper…and she didn’t know what to write.

It felt like everyone was looking at her.

Jolene certainly was. So was Jibril. Marion didn’t want to look at anyone else in case they really were, too.

What is wrong with you?

A question that applied perfectly to so many situations.

Marion wrote quickly. She folded her paper. And then she passed it to Rylie Gresham.

Rylie’s eyes were warm but worried when she smiled at Marion. Their hands brushed, and Rylie’s fingers lingered in a fashion that was most likely meant to be comforting. “It will only take a moment to add these up,” Rylie said, returning to her seat.

The Alpha sorted them by yes and no votes. She counted them, and then had her Alpha mate count them as well. Abel seemed to take longer to count. He probably struggled to get above numbers like five or six. Abel was a stupid idiot moron who had only become important because the skanky Alpha female was sleeping with him.

Marion was so busy glaring at Abel and thinking mean things that she forgot to be anxious about the outcome of the vote.

“No,” Rylie finally said. “Nine votes say no. Four say yes.”

There were no cheers, no groans. Not a sound in the entire room.

Quite the anticlimax.

“Thanks for your time,” Rylie added.

Chairs were pushed back. Bodies shifted.

Then the whispers started.

Marion watched the others without getting up. She was getting better at picking up on their thoughts. That was apparently part of her oeuvre too—part of the oeuvre of anyone who had angel blood, which Marion did, though hers was watered down more than that of the others. She was only half-angel. Half seemed to be more enough.

Elation radiated from the seelie sidhe serving as speaker for the Summer Court. Storm must have voted no.

His elation was tinged with anxiety, though. He knew what his “no” meant.

Adàn Pedregon, speaker for Los Cambiaformas Internacional, was only angry as he stormed past Marion. He’d likely voted yes, as getting the angels out of the Ethereal Levant would mean more room for his gaeans to expand—or perhaps an easy route to move down into Africa.

She didn’t need to reach into Konig’s mind to know how he’d voted. He had told Marion how he wanted things to go, and she had ultimately agreed with him.

“What did you write?” Jibril asked.

Marion stood, smoothing her dress. It was a flashy thing that day: a red dress with a fitted bodice and ridiculous number of skirt layers, more akin to something sidhe might wear than an angel, half-blood or otherwise.

“Votes are private,” she said, stepping into the hallway behind the other speakers. Marion glanced over her shoulder at Rylie and Abel, who were still seated at the head of the table, discussing the votes in whispers.

“Votes aren’t private within the factions.” Jibril grabbed Marion’s arm the instant that the door swung shut behind her. “Did you vote for angels to get control of the Winter Court?”

The Winter Court was in the Middle Worlds: one of the four courts that was meant to be occupied by the sidhe. Specifically, it should have been occupied by the unseelie sidhe.

There had been a coup five years earlier which had resulted in the queen’s assassination. The rebels hadn’t managed to maintain power either, and since then, the Winter Court had been in anarchy.

The angels wanted that Middle World for themselves.

The gods had commanded that Marion should take stewardship of it until the unseelie could resume leadership.

The vote of nine against four meant that an overwhelming majority agreed with the gods.

“Hands off, angel.” Konig had been waiting for Marion outside the board room, leaning nonchalantly against the wall. Now he hovered beside them and he radiated danger.

Jibril released his grip on Marion instantly. He knew better than to pick a fight with Marion’s boyfriend.

“Are you okay?” Marion asked. She couldn’t imagine that Konig was thrilled about the outcome of the meeting.

“Of course I am. It’s over! Now we can deal with the next thing.” Konig was immediately pleasant again once he’d been obeyed. It was shocking how quickly he swung between intimidation and charm. “I thought I’d die of boredom during all the final speeches leading up to the vote.” He planted a kiss on Marion’s lips, wrapping a firm arm around her waist.

“Me too,” she said. “And they seated me so far away from you.”

“Precious thing,” Konig said. He seemed to think that Marion was offended that they didn’t get to sit together, not that she had been seated with a couple of vampires.

Jibril made an impatient noise when they continued to kiss.

“Time to turn this loss into a victory,” Konig said. “Good thing I had my knights getting everything packed this week, just in case. Now you and I can get to our home. Our new home.”

Her heart fluttered. “Already?”

“The sooner we move in, the sooner we can get the refugees somewhere safe.” He beamed at her, excitement glowing from the violet gemstones of his eyes. Sidhe weren’t subtle about any of their emotions, whether it was anger, lust, or happiness. He was shining brighter than the sun. “And the sooner we can get comfortable in Niflheimr.”

Marion wasn’t shining along with him. She had been trying not to think too hard about what the “no” vote would mean personally.

War with the angels was bad enough.

Becoming steward of the Winter Court—a Middle World frozen in eternal darkness—meant that Marion had to leave her comfortable home on Vancouver Island to live in Niflheimr.

Marion found the idea of such a leadership position appealing. The climate…not quite so much.

At least Konig had agreed to go with her if such a thing happened. He wasn’t from the Winter Court, but his unseelie power meant he’d be able to engage most of the wards around Niflheimr, and he was more familiar with the local culture. Together, they would cooperate to gather refugees and start the court anew.

It was like buying their first house together. Except that house happened to come with vassals, enemies, and an entire kingdom.

As a prince, Konig had spent his life prepared for such responsibility, and he got to do it with his girlfriend at his side. Of course he was excited.

“I should see Jibril off,” Marion said, twining her arms around Konig’s neck. “Will you wait for me?”

“Afraid not, princess. Have to give the order to start moving my belongings into the Winter Court. I’ll have Nori pick you up in a couple hours. Don’t be surprised if you get waylaid in the Autumn Court—my mother will want your feedback on her decisions about redecorating Niflheimr.” He rolled his eyes.

Her decisions?” Marion asked.

“Don’t start with me.” Konig kissed her again, hard enough to take her breath away and scramble her thoughts.

He released her, and Marion staggered, hand pressed to her beating heart.

The look he gave her… It almost made Marion forget about how queasy she felt about the outcome of the vote.

How could Konig be “business as usual” when that decision was going to piss off the angels so thoroughly?

He was already striding away with his entourage, leaving Marion with Jibril. The hall had otherwise emptied. Everyone was in a rush to get home.

Get home, and probably batten down the hatches.

“Well, Marion?” Jibril demanded.

Marion swallowed the knot in her throat and got into the next elevator. An empty one. “It doesn’t matter what I voted. We lost.”

“We’ll appeal,” Jibril said, joining her in the elevator.

She pushed the button to take them to the zeppelin dock at the apex of the tower. “Appeals aren’t possible.” That vote had concluded the summit. There had been other, more minor issues debated in the last week—such as territory squabbles between independent shifter packs—but the fate of the Winter Court was the only issue everyone had cared about.

“What am I supposed to take back to the EL?” Jibril asked. “I can’t tell them we’ve lost.”

The lights flickered.

“Control yourself,” Marion said. “You’ll break the elevator.” Angels could disable everything electrically powered within a mile if their power flared—say, during an emotional outburst. Jibril looked to be on the brink of an outburst that could fry all of New York City.

“Don’t you know what Leliel will do?”

Marion could imagine. Leliel was the ruthless leader in the Ethereal Levant—an angel who had been de-winged shortly before Genesis and hadn’t taken the amputation gracefully.

She’d tried to assassinate Marion in order to keep her from delivering a message from the gods. The one that had led to the vote.

Leliel was not a woman with an even temper.

Marion sighed, massaging her temples with her fingertips. “I’m sorry, Jibril.” She lowered her voice. “If it makes you feel any better, I voted yes.”

Jibril’s eyes widened. “You did?”

“I’m the Voice of God, not the Mindless Obedient Zombie of God. I’m allowed to have my own opinions.” At least, Marion assumed she was allowed such things. Her memories didn’t stretch far enough back to include her last conversation with the gods, presumably when they had told her that they wanted the angels to stay out of the Middle Worlds.

“Why?” Jibril asked. “You want to run the Winter Court. You want to run everything.”

Marion wasn’t going to argue with that. “Believe it or not, I don’t want to fight with you people, nor do I want angels to die out. If the Winter Court’s the best place for all of you to nest, then you should have it.”

“You’ve surprised me.” Jibril drummed his fingers on his hip. “What would you think of negotiating some kind of compromise, now that you’re steward?”

“I’d be thrilled to discuss it. I’d also be shocked if Leliel is willing to talk to me rationally.”

“We’ll see about that,” Jibril said. “We can arrange something without her, though. I’ll meet you and Prince ErlKonig tonight in the Winter Court. There may be something we can do.”

“Hopefully Leliel will come.” After all, Leliel led the angels in Dilmun—they couldn’t make a binding agreement without her. “I’ll propose negotiations to her personally.”

The angel had failed to kill Marion once already. She was reasonably certain she could handle another tantrum from that woman.

And Leliel probably wouldn’t try to murder her now that the summit was over. Angels were, if nothing else, deeply logical creatures. The vote had ended, so killing Marion at that point would only be a waste of energy and a great way to piss off the Autumn Court.

The elevator chimed and its doors slid open. The dock was already occupied by the rest of the ethereal delegation, preparing to return to the EL after the summit.

Suzume stood on the left—an amusingly crass angel—with Leliel on her right. Marion had been planning to escort Jibril to the edge of the dock, but the sight of Leliel stopped her two feet in front of the elevator.

Leliel was beautiful. Curvaceous for an angel, statuesque, auburn-haired with skin in warm olive tones. Her body was draped in layers of peach that accentuated her large breasts and hips. She could have also probably hidden a few knives under that dress. Maybe even one of the flaming swords angels so often carried.

The instant that Marion saw her expression, Marion knew that Leliel had already heard of the vote.

“I have a message for you to deliver to your in-laws,” Leliel said. “Tell them that war is coming.”

“Wait, Leliel. We should talk,” Marion said.

“You’ve done enough, mage girl.” Her enchanted wings whipped free of the tattoos on her back. The other angels unfurled their wings as well—genuine wings, feathers glowing with so much energy that all the lights immediately extinguished in the dock.

The wind caught them, and they were gone.

Marion stepped up to the edge to watch the three of them go. She had a foul taste in her mouth.

“I voted in your favor, dammit,” she said into the foggy evening.

But it didn’t matter.

Marion’s fists were shaking, and she realized that her fingernails had cut neat half-moons into her palm because they’d been clenched so tightly.

Strangely, she wasn’t angry that Leliel refused to listen. Marion never would have expected her offer to talk to go over well.

She felt queasy that she’d even voted in the favor of Leliel, her would-be killer, even she and Konig had agreed that it would be the easiest way to prevent war.

What’s wrong with you? Jolene had asked.

“If only I knew,” she muttered.

COLLAPSE

Cast in Angelfire

An Urban Fantasy Romance

Book Cover: Cast in Angelfire
Editions:Paperback - First Edition: $ 14.99 USD
ISBN: 9781937733995
Size: 8.00 x 5.00 in
Pages: 342
ePub - First Edition: $ 4.99 USD
ISBN: 9781937733322
Pages: 350
Kindle: $ 3.99 USD
ISBN: B01CN5G0EO

Marion can’t remember anything before waking up at Mercy Hospital. All she knows that a lot of people want to kill her. And her would-be assassins are not human…

Faeries are real. So are vampires and angels.

They all want Marion dead.

Surrounded by enemies, Marion turns to Lucas Flynn: a mysterious doctor as good with a gun as he is with a scalpel. He fights like a demon but claims that he’s human. And he’s hellbent on protecting Marion.

Lucas claims that Marion is a half-witch, half-angel mage with terrifying powers that could crack the world. But Marion can’t remember how to cast magic any more than she can remember where she comes from.

Marion must find her identity and her power…before the forgotten sins of her past catch up with her.

Excerpt:

CHAPTER ONE

Billings, Montana—September 2030

There was a bounty on the life of a girl named Marion. The dollar figure was high enough that the real question wasn’t whether she would die—it was how quickly, and who would land the reward.

The bounty was passed around on darknet forums where killers sought their next paychecks. The darknet had become more advanced as unseelie sidhe developed technology so complex that it seemed to be magical, and the content was immune to the eye of law enforcement, since the servers were hidden in the Winter Court. Only people invited to the darknet could access it. Invitations were not cheap, and they could never be purchased with money.

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The original posting of the bounty said that the target answered to “Marion,” and that she had multiple last names. This Marion had been born in 2011—four years before Genesis rebooted the world, spewing vampires, faeries, and a thousand other preternatural breeds across the face of the Earth.

It also said that she needed to die before the first of November. That meant that there was less than a month to form a plan, track her down, and murder her.

The bounty’s poster included a blurry photograph of the target taken from a distance. Only her wavy brunette hair was distinct, but she stood near a bus shelter, which allowed Geoff Samuelson to approximate her height at five feet, ten inches—perhaps a bit taller.

The information wasn’t much, but it was enough for Geoff to get that bounty.

And he didn’t plan to share.

“She’s only nineteen,” said Vasicek. “A baby.”

“Nineteen’s old enough to screw, and it’s old enough to die for your country,” Geoff said.

Vasicek slipped a magazine into his sniper rifle. “I’m not saying it’s a problem. I’m stating fact. My little sister is older than she is.”

“She musta done something to piss people off,” Geoff said. Nobody got million-dollar bounties put on their head unless they really deserved it. That was the thought that had been comforting Geoff while crossing the North American Union on Amtrak, rushing toward the target’s last known location in Montana. If someone was willing to pay that much money to knock off Marion Multiple-Last-Names, then she probably deserved it.

The thought of what Geoff would do with all that money was its own kind of comfort, too.

Vasicek had a dreamy look that said he was contemplating something similar. Even the serpents coiled over his ears looked like they were fantasizing about the bounty. “What do you think you’ll do with your half?”

“I’m out of this business,” Geoff said. “Out of the business, out of the country, retiring for life.”

“The money’s good, but not that good.”

It would be once Geoff murdered Vasicek, ensuring that he didn’t have to split the bounty in half. “What are you planning to do with your cut?”

“I’m franchising. Got lots of connections who are, you know, like me.” Vasicek probably meant demons in general, not specifically megaira. His specific breed made good assassins, though. They fed on aggression the way vampires fed on blood. “Us types do good with this killing stuff. I’ll buy ‘em, pay ‘em a salary, collect lots more bounties. Get some fat stacks going.”

“Like the Mary Kay of murder?”

“The Wal-Mart of murder. We’ll be huge. We’ll dominate.” The snakes creating Vasicek’s hair laughed along with him in a chorus of cruel hissing.

It was a nice fantasy all right. Before Genesis, Vasicek might have been able to do such a thing. Demons had been almost as numerous as humans back in those days, and there had been no sidhe or shifters to compete with. Now there weren’t many demons for Vasicek to hire. They’d all been shoved into the Nether Worlds, then the key to the door tossed away.

Geoff didn’t bother pointing out how impractical the plan was. Vasicek should enjoy the fantasy while it lasted. In a few hours, he’d be bleeding sulfurous blood onto the pavement, his soul dragged to the Nether Worlds to be with his brethren. No Wal-Mart of murder for him. Not on this plane.

“It’s a nice idea.” Geoff got to his feet as the train halted. He shouldered his backpack, which was a lot smaller than Vasicek’s gun-laden duffel bag. Geoff didn’t need weapons to kill. “Dream big, bro.”

“Dream and keep on dreaming,” Vasicek agreed.

The train station wasn’t far from the target, so Geoff braced himself for competition—the legions of assassins, primarily sidhe, who would be closing in on the same million-dollar skull that he was. It felt anticlimactic to step off the train to no fanfare, no blood, no gunfire.

He hoped they weren’t too late to kill Marion.

Their destination waited on the other side of the street. Original Sin. The name was picked out in bold neon sparkling with magic.

It was one of many clubs under the same name—a franchise not unlike Wal-Mart. This was the kind of franchise that mundane humans couldn’t see, though. Mundane humans passed on the sidewalk without ever glancing at it. Their eyes skipped from the tattoo parlor to the lingerie shop on the other side, like that space between didn’t exist.

Even Geoff had a hard time focusing on any of the Original Sins he’d visited. Like the darknet, Original Sin was intended only for the kind of souls who could locate it, and the owners didn’t make that an easy chore.

“What time did the email say?” Geoff asked.

Vasicek said, “Midnight.”

The train had been delayed at its last station; the time was already after eleven thirty. Geoff and Vasicek wouldn’t have much time to set up.

The bouncer at the door for Original Sin had the strange glittering flesh that was a hallmark of sidhe—also known as faeries, though the sidhe had made it clear that wasn’t their preferred term. And most people were smart enough to call sidhe whatever the hell they wanted.

Sidhe were a whole other deterrent to visiting Original Sin. The sheer power of their magic warped the world, consuming all light and emanating it from their glittering flesh. It was hard to think straight around the unseelie sidhe, harder still to focus on them, and near impossible to murder one of them.

If Geoff and Vasicek pissed off the bouncer, they’d die before they could track down the bounty.

This particular sidhe seemed too bored to fight. Vasicek paid their cover fees, and the sidhe didn’t even glance in their bags before stepping aside.

Eleven thirty should have been too early for any club to be so busy. Under ordinary circumstances, the creatures of the night didn’t get partying until the witching hour struck, but Original Sin wasn’t an ordinary circumstance. The regulars simply never left. It was as packed with bodies that evening as it would have been in brilliant, burning midday.

Every version of Original Sin was essentially the same, with minute differences. Geoff scanned the room to orient himself to the changes in this location.

The bar was at the back as it usually was, glowing like a beacon in the midst of inky shadow. Liquor bottles seemed to hold inner lights all their own, as if pixies had been trapped at their bottoms.

The dance floor was on a level below ground. Geoff skimmed the faces of the dancers as he walked along the mezzanine, picking out all the preternaturals he could. Shifters were easy to spot, golden-eyed as they were. Vampires were the pallid and frail. There were only a couple of sidhe besides the doorman. Having too many sidhe around was bad for business.

This particular version of Original Sin had columns of fire in each corner, a shade of white-blue that suggested magic. Geoff passed by one. It looked deadly, but it wasn’t hot. He still wouldn’t risk bumping into it. Original Sin was exactly the kind of place where they would decorate with something fatal at a touch.

“Up there,” Vasicek said, jerking his chin toward the south wall. Scaffolding supporting the lights that strobed over the dancers, lighting their preternatural flesh like prisms.

Geoff climbed the scaffold. Vasicek was right behind him. Much like the doorman, none of the regulars seemed interested in the fact that two men were scaling the rigging for the lights; of all the strange things that demons did in Original Sin, crawling up the walls was the most ordinary.

The scaffold gave them an excellent vantage point overlooking the rest of the club. Geoff could see into the curtained booths on the far side of the bar. He could even see the hallway behind the DJ.

When the target came in, he would know.

Geoff turned on his cell phone to read Marion’s emails again. An anonymous person had contacted Marion to ask for help, and despite the message’s brevity, Marion had readily agreed to meet that person at Original Sin at midnight. The target must have known the individual she was due to meet.

He checked the time again. Almost midnight. Geoff rolled the moonstone charm in his fingers as Vasicek set up. “Do you feel that?” Vasicek asked, scratching at the back of his neck. His nails were sharp enough to leave red streaks on his greasy skin.

Tilting his nose up, Geoff took a sniff. The club was filled with a nauseating cocktail of lethe, pot smoke, liquor, sweat, and piss. One smell was so strange that it rang alarm bells in his head, even though it was faint—the smell of burning oak.

His eyes swept the crowd, and he spotted the target near the door.

Marion shone among all the other preternaturals. She wasn’t the most beautiful of them, but there was something compelling about her willowy figure, high cheekbones, and cold blue eyes. She didn’t look like she was only nineteen. She didn’t exactly look older, either.

Ageless was the word for it.

Unease crawled over Geoff. What is she?

The options slithered through his consciousness—cherubim, gibborim, or messenger, maybe. He wouldn’t have expected any of them. Ethereal types seldom left their territory in the Levant, and they would never deign to socialize with mere gaeans.

He felt less guilty about Marion’s impending death.

Marion glided toward the bar and slipped into a booth. A waiter brought her drink in a martini glass, which she accepted with a smile. It must have been her regular drink. She wasn’t old enough to have a regular drink.

She sat out in the open, oblivious to how many creatures would be circling for her blood. Trusting enough to meet an unnamed contact in public, trusting enough to sit with her back to a room filled with strangers.

Vasicek extended the stand on his sniper rifle, propped it against the rails of the scaffold, and aimed it down. The light coming through the sight shined on his eye. Black swirled over the iris like pools of ink. “I have her in my sights.”

“Remember the plan,” Geoff said. “Wait until I’m down.”

“I’m waiting, I’m waiting.” Vasicek’s finger looked awful twitchy. “Hurry up.”

Geoff swung off of the scaffolding, landed behind the dance floor, and slipped out the back door to the alley. The moonstone charm was burning a hole in his pocket—almost literally. He needed to use the magic before it expired.

He stripped his clothing off and stuffed it behind a trashcan. The moonstone scorched his palms. He bounced it between them, waiting for the signal that it was time to change.

Muffled gunshots popped from within Original Sin.

People screamed.

That was Vasicek’s signal.

Doors burst open, and Original Sin’s patrons flooded onto the sidewalk. Geoff watched them from his hidden position at the back of the alley.

Some people clutched bloody wounds on their arms, shoulders, necks. Vasicek hadn’t deliberately been aiming to kill. He had been trying to create mayhem, and it had worked.

“Come on,” Geoff muttered, pressing his thumb against the stone.

Gaean magic settled over him.

It didn’t hurt to shapeshift into his wolf form when he allowed the Alpha to control him, as most shapeshifters did. But using a charm between moons to force the change—that was different.

He shapeshifted a piece at a time. Fast and brutal.

His knees broke. Switched positions. He collapsed onto his hands as the fingernails fell out. Silver claws thrust from the skin, oozing blood around the edges.

He threw his head back and roared through his breaking jaw, which extended into a muzzle.

Nobody heard him. They were too busy running from Vasicek’s attack inside. There were more gunshots, more screaming, the wail of a fire alarm.

After his spine extended into a tail, vertebrae replicating, grinding, twisting, the fever of fur extruding from his skin was nothing. It barely even itched. Within a minute, he had swollen to quadruple his former size, perhaps more, and Geoff could no longer hide behind the trashcan.

A pair of women burst through the rear door.

One of them Geoff didn’t recognize. She was a petite nobody with hair the color of straw. Most likely the anonymous person who had emailed Marion asking for help.

The other one was tall, with lots of curly brown hair, and bright-blue eyes.

Even Geoff’s wolf brain recognized the target, and it remembered how much she was worth.

A million dollars.

He could retire permanently.

Geoff lunged.

Werewolves were faster than any other gaean breed, so he flashed across the alley in a heartbeat, and he was on top of her the heartbeat after that. He slammed her into the wall hard enough to knock her out. Maybe even hard enough to kill her, if her skull hit in just the right way. He’d struck her with half a ton of werewolf at a hundred miles an hour, after all.

He reared back to rip her face off.

His claws halted inches from Marion’s cheek.

It felt as though a fist had closed around his body, holding him suspended in the air. He thrashed, howling. But no matter how he snapped, there was nothing to bite. Nothing physical held him.

Marion slid out from underneath him, hands outstretched, pupils white with magic. Her hair swirled around her neck, lifted in a wind that didn’t touch him. “Bad dog,” she said, and she flicked her fingers. “Down, boy.”

Geoff hurtled into the far wall hundreds of feet down the alley.

He’d been tossed around by Alpha shapeshifters before. He’d been shot more than once. He’d even been crushed by a car before.

None of that hurt as much as Marion tossing him with a single, magical gesture.

“Stay down,” she said. Her voice rattled within his skull. The very sound of it hurt.

Geoff scrambled to his feet while his head was still spinning.

Marion was holding hands with her straw-haired friend, ignoring Geoff as though he presented no threat whatsoever. “Are you okay?”

“I think so,” the girl said.

“Get back into Original Sin.” She pushed the other woman through the back door.

Geoff launched himself at Marion again, faked a left, and then swung right. All with lightning speed. The fastest that he had ever moved.

She stepped out of his way effortlessly.

He skidded past her, paws scrabbling uselessly on pavement.

Marion saw his lightning speed and decided to raise him by summoning real lightning. She pointed one hand toward the sky and the other toward Geoff. “I told you to stay down.”

Electricity danced down her upright arm and clustered on her fingertips. It arced from her fingernails.

Geoff dodged—barely. The lighting struck the wall behind him. It lanced up the bricks, sizzled against the roof.

He leaped toward Marion from the rear.

She swung around, annoyance twisting the graceful lines of her face.

“No,” she said, side-stepping him again.

The neon lights outside of Original Sin popped in a shower of sparks. Every single street light within range blacked out.

The night was absolute.

Unable to see, Geoff slammed into the trash. It exploded around him in a shower of stinking garbage. He shook it off, but old beer and vomit weighed his fur down.

His worst fears were true. There was only one type of creature that disabled all electricity simply by existing.

Angels.

The bounty on this kid should be a lot higher.

Light glowed at the end of the alley. Marion’s magic was gathering again, illuminating her the way that lanterns were illuminated by inner flame. Her eyes spilled ethereal blue down her cheekbones. She advanced on Geoff. “Who sent you?”

The back door banged open, bouncing off the wall. Geoff glimpsed Vasicek emerging from over Marion’s shoulder.

The megaira raised his gun. He fired as Marion turned to look at him.

Geoff didn’t get time to feel hopeful that Vasicek would finish the job. Marion plucked the bullet out of the air an inch in front of her nose. “Silver,” she said, rolling it between her fingers. “Whoever hired you must not know me well at all.”

She hurled the bullet at Geoff before he could react. It embedded in his foreleg as though shot from a gun.

There was no pain quite like silver burn. Geoff’s howls shook the bricks of the alley. His vision blurred, his head rang, his blood turned to acid.

Vasicek gave a strangled yowl.

And then he was silent.

Geoff couldn’t see what had happened to the demon. He could see nothing, think of nothing, feel nothing but the bullet. Marion seemed to have aimed it so that the point would flatten against the bone deep within his flesh. The moon was scorching him from the inside out.

Vasicek was probably dead.

Not enough money in the world for this.

Marion crouched and ran her hand through the ruff of hair at Geoff’s neck. He whined and snapped at her fingers. She pushed his muzzle to the pavement, as casually as though that were something she’d done to werewolves before. “I want you to shift back and tell me who sent you.”

If he could have, he would have. Anything to make her back away. Anything to stop the pain.

The charm wouldn’t wear off for another hour, and there was no way to tell her that.

She stood suddenly, distracted by another person appearing in the alley. Marion stood and turned to face them. The smell of her shock came off of her in waves so powerful that they pierced Geoff’s suffering.

Mon dieu,” Marion said softly. Her hands balled into fists. Her voice strengthened. “Qu’est-ce que toi, tu fais ici?

There was no responding voice. There was only blinding darkness, immense and total.

When the street lights flickered back on, Vasicek was dead, Geoff was still bleeding, and Marion Many-Last-Names was gone without a trace.

COLLAPSE

This series is urban fantasy romance unfolding over multiple books with an eventual happily ever after. It features some violence, mature language, and sexual references.